Sensational earaches (one Brit had a tooth in his ear; a Seattle boy had a pair of nesting spiders!) make big headlines. But for most kids who get middle-ear infections before the age of 3, earaches are a cause for distress, not for stopping the presses!
In fact, ear infections are so common that they're the No. 1 reason parents bring a child to a doctor. That's because kids' ears don't drain fluid very effectively and, besides being painful, fluid buildup is quite an incubator for bacteria and viruses.
But many docs mistakenly prescribe antibiotics for use against viral ear infections (which don't respond to antibiotics). Plus, they overprescribe antibiotic treatments for bacterial infections that would go away on their own. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new guidelines for treating ear infections and has established stricter diagnostic standards to make sure docs prescribe antibiotics only when needed.
The new guidelines recommend antibiotics for kids 6 months or older only if they have severe signs of infection - a temperature of 102 F or higher PLUS moderate or severe ear pain, or any ear pain lasting 48 hours or more. Otherwise, it's recommended you "wait and see" if the symptoms resolve themselves. Other smart moves the AAP recommends: Have the doc drain fluid from a child's ear (to avoid permanent hearing loss) and use pain relievers whether or not antibiotics are prescribed.
These new guidelines can help antibiotics remain the most effective, top-of-the-line treatment for children and adults - but only when they're necessary to battle other infections.